Jeep Purists vs Futurists – The Rise of the JK

A few months ago, The Engine Block launched a series called “Jeep Purists vs Futurists” as a way to uncover what it really means to be a Jeeper in the 4×4 community. We left off at a point in time that changed everything—the rise of the JK.

As for the newer JKs: purists aren’t total haters, rather opportunists. “It’s kind of interesting. You would think a lot of purists would be jealous because all the manufacturers are focusing on the JK. There’s not much for the classic stuff. But the old-school guys look at it like this: those buying JKs and sinking tens of thousands of aftermarket products into them without taking them off road likely aren’t the consumers hanging onto the Jeeps for a really long time. Today, it’s cool and trendy and when it isn’t, or something else comes along, then they’ll trade it in. Maybe that’s a JL, or maybe it’s a Bronco,” said Dan Guyer, an outside sales associate at Keystone Automotive.

“That said, as the price of these vehicles come down in 10 years (and they’re out of warranty, have racked up a few miles, and are in need of a little love), then we can afford to fix ‘em up and take them off road. Those Jeeps were really taken care of, not beaten up. Years ago, you took a shot in the dark by purchasing a TJ, not knowing if it was swamped. So, it’s a win-win for everyone,” added Guyer.

Things Come and Go

Keystone has been in the aftermarket business a long time and has seen its fair share of trends circle the drain. Call it what you choose: mall crawler, pageant queen, or pavement princess. But the concept of form before function has skyrocketed the Street Jeep® from poser to rock star status—minus the long hair, tight jeans, and excessive jewelry.

“Wrangler is one of the top vehicles in the US, but that market and the buyer of that specific vehicle have moved away from how it was originally intended. It’s kept a rugged appeal. Weekend warriors and overlanding enthusiasts need a vehicle they can rely on. The capability is still there even if a consumer isn’t using it, and that’s the point. Even though it appears to be super far from where it was originally intended, it’s still very much alive,” said Melissa Richardson, VP of Marketing and Sales at Warrior Products.

If you think the big, bold, flashy fad is on its way out, think again. What manufacturers of this futurist movement have accomplished is nothing shy of astonishing. They’ve elevated their brands to father a new kind of consumer with fashion-forward styling unlike any other. After all, why should one conform to a purists’ point of view when the Jeep platform has always been a safe haven for personal customization?

Haters on the Loose

There will always be haters; that’s part of the game. The team at Fab Fours is not only revolutionizing the off-road segment one Grumper at a time, but also trailblazing a path to financial glory in the process. “Everyone’s passion is important, be it the Jeep ‘mall crawler’ cruising the streets or the DIYer hitting the trails to hunt or fish. They’re all valid ways to use a Jeep. And they’re all our customers,” said Richardson. “If we are to grow, then there must be no chips on the shoulder. We (as a manufacturer) must evolve, and you have to evolve (as a shop owner), otherwise we all fall behind. Be open to new opportunities,” she added.

And opportunities galore exist. There are hoards of Jeeps running on 35s that never see dirt, or winch-mount bumpers that will never recover, or lift kits that serve no functional purpose other than to kill one’s fuel economy and ride quality for the sake of looking badass. “We’re very aware of the movement, and it’s been that way for quite a while now. In fact, before the JK even came out, we (industry professionals) knew that nearly 90% of Jeepers weren’t taking their rides off road, yet were putting 10K or more in the JK for aesthetic appeal. Of course, we take that into consideration when engineering new products,” said Ray Weaver, Northeast Regional Sales Manager at Rugged Ridge.

To those traditional retailers and restylers still shaking their heads and desperately trying to wrap their heads around such an idea, Fab Fours says embrace it.

Jeep Pepsi Challenge

“Hey, we’ll take the Pepsi challenge off road any day,” said Matt McShane of Fab Fours, who feels very passionate about every product they manufacture being able to withstand an ultimate beating. “We all come from this appreciation of custom cars, a custom thought process. And the Jeep is the ultimate custom thing. At Fab Fours, we’ve never frowned or looked down upon someone who may build a really cool Jeep and never let it see mud,” he added.

“Some people look down at that, but we never have. (No different than a custom hot rod or truck,) that’s the personality of the person driving it. And if it brings people enjoyment, then we’re all over it. You want to use it to go off road, great. Tell us how it did. (By the way, it’ll perform!) But if you just want to build something that’s going to make you feel great when all is said and done, then we’re cool with that, too. We’re in the business of making people happy, and how are we going to build the business if we can’t embrace the Street Jeep®?” concluded McShane.

Check back for our third installment of “Jeep Purists vs Futurists” as we explore a list line of the coolest JK products and get some friendly advice from the man himself—Greg Higgs, owner of Fab Fours.

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